The view from here

A city of cities, Tokyo continues to lure travelers of every persuasion

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Tokyo is a city whose districts are as diverse as the designs of the popular Japanese-made Washi Tape.

Step off at any point along the JR Yamanote Line—the train loop that connects the Japanese capital’s major city centers—and you will immediately get a glimpse of what sets one district apart from the other.

In Harajuku’s Takeshita Dori you’ll find yourself at the birthplace of Japan’s most extreme teenage cultures and fashion trends. Akihabara’s Electric Town will thrill with its establishments devoted to Japanese anime and manga dispersed among stores selling the latest electronic gadgets and appliances. Neon-lit Shinjuku will lure and shock with Tokyo’s largest and wildest red light district, while being amidst the flood of pedestrians converging in Shibuya Crossing—Tokyo’s most photographed intersection—leaves a sweet assault on the senses. Beyond the crossing, you’ll find bustling streets lined with izakayas, restaurants, quirky retail shops, and high-rise buildings housing everything from pre-loved goods and fashion brands to whisky bars and night clubs.

Within the Yamanote loop exists a quieter, more solemn side of Tokyo as well. Detraining off Yoyogi will get you to the Meiji Shrine, where upon entering its massive torii gate, the sounds of the bustling city are replaced by that of a tranquil forest, while a lesson in history greets those disembarking at Yurakucho, the closest JR station to the Sakuradamon gate of the Imperial Palace. On weekends, a short 10-minute walk from the latter will draw shoppers to Chuo-dori, where a 1.1-kilometer stretch of the street that pays homage to the world’s leading fashion houses is closed to vehicular traffic.

Covering all bases
A city of cities, Tokyo doubtlessly caters to the whims of travelers of every persuasion.

It’s also a place that never ceases to amaze. This last trip with Seafarer Asia took us to the hushed Harumi seafront district, where right across the Hotel Mariners Court where the team was billeted, stood a tall, windowless white tower. Starkly different from the rest of the skyscrapers that make up Tokyo’s skyline, the monolith-like building is especially formidable at night. The tower piqued our group’s curiosity, and it wasn’t until our last day in the city when a former kabuki actress suddenly volunteered the information that the mystery surrounding its identity was finally solved. “Every Saturday, garbage collected across the city is brought to the tower for incineration,” our companion informed. “It’s where all of Tokyo’s garbage is destroyed.”

One of the things that’s always struck about Japan is its fastidious anticipation of a “future” need. You experience this proclivity for efficiency and future-mindedness everywhere—in eccentrically executed products like a plastic banana keeper “because you don’t want squished bananas in your bag”; vending machines that offer everything from drinks in temperatures “just right” for consumption to neckties, sneakers, and (google it) live lobsters; summer-cooling gels and sprays; and mysterious looking buildings dedicated to incinerating garbage.

It even extends to the exacting standards of service the Japanese provides travelers. The Hotel Mariners Court in Harumi, for one, is quite exhaustive when it comes to its offerings. Owned by the All Japan Seamen’s Union (JSU), the Mariners Court goes beyond providing accommodation, which it offers at 50 percent discount to seafarers staying in Tokyo.

According to its president, former seafarer Jiro Mitsugi, the hotel is particularly known for its wedding and party facilities, banquets, and restaurants. “Ours is more comprehensive than other city hotels,” Mitsugi tells us as he leads us on a tour of the facilities. A popular venue for weddings, Mitsugi shares the Mariners Court is not only home to a Mediterranean Chapel and a traditional Japanese wedding hall, it also has its own wedding photography studio and bridal salon.

Located in one of Tokyo’s quietest neighborhoods, “there’s not much to see, like historical monuments, within the vicinity of the hotel,” says Mitsugi. “Right now, there are some companies with offices here, but because of the quiet location, there are mostly condominiums and residences in the area,” he adds.

While the energy this side of Tokyo may seem disconnected from its more bustling city centers, Mitsugi shares this is set to change the closer it gets to 2020 when Tokyo hosts the Olympics. “The Olympics Village will be built on the next block,” he informs us, pointing to the 44-hectare parcel of land next door. The village, set to accommodate 17,000 athletes in the 2020 Olympics, will breathe more life to the sleepy neighborhood. “We’re already getting bookings as early as now,” says Mitsugi.

While the year 2020 will definitely see the Mariners Court right in the middle of where all the Olympic action is, there’s still a spate of reasons to book in this side of town before that happens. Almost all of its rooms, for one, come with a view of stunning Tokyo Bay and the iconic Rainbow Bridge, making it the ideal spot to watch the Tokyo Bay Hanabi, one of the best fireworks festival in Japan held in August. Geographically, it’s also a stone’s throw away from such tourist hotspots as Toyosu and the Odaiba waterfront where the Fuji TV Building is. Guests are a few bus stops away from Ginza’s retail, food, and entertainment delights. And should one be interested in catching Tokyo’s famous Tuna auctions before it transfers to its new location in Toyosu, Koto, a food coma in Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market—the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world—is 15 to 20 minutes away by foot.

Seafarer Asia Magazine | Special Japan Issue